The handwriting on the wall

The handwriting on the wall

by Liling Magtolis Briones

And so it came to pass that King Belshazzar of Babylon gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles. In the midst of Belshazzar’s revelry with his nobles, wives and concubines, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the wall: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. Terror filled the heart of the king and all those in the palace.

All the king’s wise men could not read the handwriting on the wall. Finally, the prophet Daniel was summoned. He told the king the meaning of the words. Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Parsin (or Peres): Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Today, July 28, the President will address a gathering of her nobles and satraps. She will deliver the annual Sona or State of the Nation Address. Whatever she says, however she says it, cannot erase the handwriting on the wall which is there for all to see.

There is more than one Daniel denouncing and exposing the perfidy of the present administration. As early as July 18, Social Watch Philippines started its series of statements and briefings on the national budget, the state of the economy and its impact on the social sectors.

This week, more Daniels spoke out—academics, think tanks and progressive organizations, particularly the youth. On Friday, former Cabinet members from four administrations (FSGO) issued a powerful statement, which was prophetic as well as poetic. It highlighted the seven curses which the present administration had inflicted on our hapless country: the food crisis, worsening poverty, deteriorating basic social services, corruption, wanton abuse of presidential power and illegitimacy.

Today, Social Watch Philippines, a convener of the Alternative Budget Initiative composed of 48 civil-society organizations, is presenting its position regarding the handwriting on the wall and the state of the nation:

• Mene, Mene: Your days are numbered

The latest that this administration can last is up to 2010. There are speculations about constitutional change, either to extend the term of the President or change to a parliamentary system. The public strongly rejects this move. Efforts to generate support for constitutional change at this time have been roundly rebuffed. The people refuse to give the smallest opportunity for the President or her anointed successors to stay one minute longer.

End of days is coming!

• Tekel: Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang

For seven years Social Watch Philippines has weighed the accomplishments of this administration in social development, particularly the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and found them grossly wanting. Mention has consistently been made of poverty, inequity, increasing hunger, deterioration in education, stubbornly high levels of infant and maternal mortality, low levels of health, environmental degradation and global problems related to trade and debt.

Inadequate financing

Lack of adequate financing partly explains the appalling failure in social development. Dr. Rosario Manasan of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies calculated that for four MDG goals alone, P94.9 billion in additional resources would be needed this year. The actual additions to the 2008 budget are nowhere near this amount.

For 2009, Manasan has calculated that additional resources of P100.4 billion should be added to the national budget for education, health, water and sanitation and poverty reduction. Again, this amount is not likely to be generated, considering escalating deficit levels.

Slowdown in the economy

Most of the counter-Sona assessments focused attention on social-development impacts. Social Watch Philippines has already issued extensive papers on nonattainment of MDGs. This is partly explained by the slowing down of the economy.

Official data on the growth of the economy indicate a clear downward trend in the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2007, the President called for a special conference crowing about a 7- percent GDP growth for the first quarter. During the first quarter of 2008, this has gone down to 5.2 percent.

The growth of agriculture, fishery and forestry has gone down from 4 percent in the first quarter of 2007 to 3 percent, also in the first quarter. Even worse, the industry sector has gone down from a hefty 6.6-percent growth during the first quarter of 2007 to 3.9 percent in 2008.

A breakdown of the industry sector shows numbers which are not for the faint-hearted: Manufacturing went down from 4.1 percent during the first quarter of 2007 to 2.3 percent in 2008. But wait! Construction went down from 21.7 percent to—que horror!—4.5 percent from the first quarters of 2007 to 2008!

Global crisis no excuse

The usual excuse is that the crisis is global. How come Vietnam has 7.4 percent growth rate, Malaysia 7.1 percent, Indonesia 6.3 percent, Thailand 6.0 percent and the Philippines a meek, embarrassing 5.2 percent?

The crucial factor is governance.

What employment?

Last week, the government paid for a full two-page ad and issued a series of press releases on its so-called accomplishments. A claim was made that 9 million jobs were created from 2001 to 2008. These extravagant claims are totally erased by the fact that unemployment now stands at 8 percent and underemployment at double-digit levels.

Even as so-called millions of jobs were created for street cleaners, canal diggers, flower trimmers and the like, millions of jobs were also lost in manufacturing and construction. This resulted in a net loss of 168,000 jobs since April last year.


The present administration has been measured and found most wanting in the area of governance. No less than the World Bank has pronounced this government as the most corrupt in East Asia.

• Parsin: Reform is blowing in the wind

The people refuse to listen to the Sona and its claims. Change and reform are on the way. They already know the truth, and it will set them free.


Whatever happened to Belshazzar? He was thrown into the dustbin of history. Darius took over the kingdom of Babylon.


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